09/20/04 — Standing firm: Pickle company was right to defy union’s boycott

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Standing firm: Pickle company was right to defy union’s boycott

For five and a half years, Bill Bryan stuck by a principle. Bryan, the president of Mt. Olive Pickle Co., refused to yield to a demand by a farm workers’ union to buy only union-picked cucumbers.

For that refusal, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee organized a nationwide boycott against the company.

Bryan said it would have been inappropriate for his company to horn in on the relationship between his suppliers and their employees. That was his principle, and he was right.

The union, which was seeking to organize Hispanic farm workers in North Carolina, cucumber pickers in particular, chose Mt. Olive Pickles for a boycott only because the familiar company was a sitting target that might be forced to put the squeeze on farmers.

That, of course, was unfair. The company does not employ any of the farm workers that the union wanted to organize. It does not raise cucumbers. It should never have been boycotted. The union, called FLOC, is more concerned about effectiveness than ethics.

Last week, the boycott ended. Mt. Olive Pickles didn’t give in on its refusal to come between farmers and pickers, but it agreed to some requests by FLOC. The concessions involve such things as encouraging producers to allow “visitors” — read that union organizers — on their farms; it is raising the prices paid for cucumbers, and it will pay a 3 percent supplement to growers who provide Workmens Compensation for their workers.

Millions of people have continued during the boycott to buy and enjoy Mt. Olive pickles. Some have even bought more to help make up for any sales lost to the boycott.

The losses may have been a small part of the company’s sales, but the boycott was a distracting headache. Bryan’s own church denomination, the United Methodists, supported it — although the North Carolina conference of the church dissented. And upper management has had to spend considerable time dealing with institutions that are inclined intuitively to support labor-organizing efforts without considering the real effects of their actions.

Whatever its effectiveness, it is good that the boycott is history. And it is good that the parties found a way to end it without caving in on principles.

Published in Editorials on September 20, 2004 12:15 PM